Opinion: BIA politicizes placement of Indian children in new rule

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker discusses an Indian Child Welfare Act case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Dusten Brown, in sunglasses, was forced to give up his daughter after the justices ruled against him. Photo from National Congress of American Indians / Flickr

Bonnie Cleaveland, a psychologist who spoke out in favor of the non-Indian couple in the controversial Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case, takes aim at the new Indian Child Welfare Act rule proposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 to remedy child welfare systems’ mass removal of indigenous children, often unfairly and as a result of cultural bias. In March of 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) proposed new regulations for ICWA’s implementation.

The guidelines that preceded the regulations argue that a best interest hearing isn’t necessary for indigenous children because their best interest is always with the tribe.

The evidence frequently cited for the argument is the Split Feather Study appended to Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a 2013 ICWA case before the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1994, Dr. Carol Locust interviewed 20 American Indians who were adopted or fostered by non-Indian parents. She argued that “every Indian child” is at risk of “long-term psychological damage” as a result of an out-of-culture placement. Further, “19 out of 20 have psychological problems related to their placement in non-Indian homes.”

The Split Feather Study’s conclusion is that Indian children are fundamentally different: a home with the tribe is the most important best interest factor, overriding all scientific understanding of trauma and attachment. Unfortunately, the study violates both the most fundamental requirements of logic and the scientific method.

Get the Story:
Bonnie Cleaveland: ICWA Is Politicizing the ‘Best Interests’ Determination (Social Justice Solutions 5/29)

Federal Register Notices:
Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (March 30, 2015)
Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (February 25, 2015)

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